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Travel12 cruise activities you don’t want to miss on sea days

12 cruise activities you don’t want to miss on sea days

How I love sea days! Port visits often leave little time to lounge poolside, snooze on massage tables, linger over a second helping at brunch or, most importantly, sleep in. In my book, sea days are “me days” – tailor-made for indulging in the bountiful amenities on board.

Here, we wax poetic about some of the most rewarding sea-day pursuits. You don’t want to miss out because you might discover they deliver the best moments of the entire cruise.

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Sleeping in

How many jet-lagged mornings have you been startled awake by your smartphone alarm, thrilled to go exploring yet groaning over the early hour? Many shore excursions begin at 8:30 or 9 a.m., making mornings a rush.

Sleeping in — especially if it’s a rare feat at home — is the ultimate sea day delight.

If traveling as a family, take turns dropping the little ones at a kids club on family-friendly cruise lines such as Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. Then, go back to bed and pull the covers over your head. Just remember to hang out the “do not disturb” sign first.

Balcony bingeing

Princess Cruises will arrange a four-course Ultimate Balcony Dining meal for passengers on their balconies for an extra charge. PRINCESS CRUISES

If I have a private veranda, I may order every meal delivered to my cabin. Few things feel more luxurious than sipping a frothy cappuccino and tucking into a fluffy omelet while basking in a dazzling ocean view alfresco. Midday, I nibble salad (well, truthfully, a burger) on my balcony while absorbed in a beachy page-turner I never have time to read back home.

Come dusk, romance blossoms, dining a deux on a veranda, watching the sun slip beneath the horizon. On luxury lines, such leisurely dining (and alcohol) is complimentary, with butlers or servers often setting fine linens and flowers on veranda tables. On Silversea Cruises, a white-gloved butler can serve a multi-dish repast course-by-course upon request. On Seabourn (and Silversea), you can savor complimentary caviar on a veranda paired with a cocktail of choice.

Related: Why you should book a balcony cabin on your next cruise

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Sea-day brunch

No meal celebrates leisure more than brunch. Many lines offer extended breakfast hours, so you don’t miss a meal when you linger longer in dreamland.

Carnival Cruise Line delivers a great sea-day brunch, teeming with choice, including morning favorites like eggs Benedict and huevos rancheros, and lunch-driven plates like fried chicken with bourbon maple syrup and a salmon superfood salad. Most dishes are complimentary. A few items, like pressed-to-order juices and lobster Benedict, incur fees. Kids enjoy a special menu with perennial favorites such as chicken nuggets and mac and cheese.

Virgin Voyages serves breakfast all day, so you can find eggs on the menu no matter how early or late. You can also indulge your inner child with rainbow-sprinkled fairy toast or milk and cookies at brunch when you finally emerge from your cabin.

Glamming up

Silver Muse suite guests preparing for formal night. LUCA LOCATELLI/SILVERSEA CRUISES

Ships typically schedule dress-up nights on sea days when passengers have time and the inclination to glam it up. You’ll need to bring your fancy attire and makeup kit from home, but where better to prepare for a grand evening than the spa’s beauty salon?

On formal nights, beauty appointments fill up quickly, so book as far in advance as possible. Choices include mani-pedis (complete with hand and foot massages), deep-conditioning hair treatments and styling, and even cosmetic enhancements. These are not solely for women; some ships offer barbering services and other “manscaping” options.

On Celebrity Cruises’ Edge-class ships, expect many rejuvenating treatments, including teeth whitening, dermal face fillers and skin resurfacing facials. You can even score eye and neck-specific treatments.

Spa day

On a sea day, you can take all day for spa bingeing — no rush, full stop. All ships feature spas of varying sizes and many offer near-boundless ways to relax muscles, from scrubs and massages to acupuncture.

On Viking’s ocean-going vessels, the Nordic spas provide complimentary access to many hot and cold therapies, such as a thalassotherapy pool and the coolest-ever Snow Grotto. The Mareel Wellness & Beauty spa on Queen Mary 2 embraces the sea’s healing energy. On this Cunard Line flagship, partake in a Finnish sauna and organic seaweed leaf wrap.

Look for newer Silversea ships that tout Otium, the Roman-inspired game-changer spa devoted to indulgence. One word of advice for this spa where 100-minute oh-so-good massages are de rigueur: Do not fill up on complimentary Champagne and house-made sweets like marshmallows and chocolate truffles after a lengthy massage pre-dinner. (I stashed a few in my spa robe pocket for later.)

However, post-treatment, allow your white-gloved butler to draw a blissful aromatherapy bath in your suite tub, with battery-lit candles flickering and classical music playing softly. It’s all included in the Otium experience.

Continue the Otium chill vibe ensuite by ordering from the Otium dining menu, which includes such decadent dishes as truffled popcorn and lobster on brioche. On these ships, pillows, sheets – even your mattress – are custom-designed to ensure Otium-deep sleep and restoration.

Related: Best cruise ship spas

Cabana chilling

Everyone flocks to the pool on sea days, so the Lido Deck can be a madhouse. Escape the crowds by booking a private cabana to spend morning to sunset in a secluded oasis.

Curtained cabanas at Seabourn Ovation’s and Seabourn Encore’s Retreat are particularly paradisical enclaves. These exclusive hideaways, furnished with dining tables, couches and even minifridges and flat-screen TVs, encircle a private whirlpool. Relish a massage in an adjacent spa cabana or have the Retreat mixologist whip up a favorite cocktail.

Princess Cruises’ Royal-class ships offer private cabanas in the Sanctuary. Stewards do it all, from providing chilled face towels to spritzing you with Evian water. Count Celebrity Cruises and Holland America among those offering similar havens, as well.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea on Scarlet Lady. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

To me, sea days are also tea days. Some cruise lines present this afternoon ritual daily. Others reserve it for sea days only because it’s difficult to squeeze in tea on port days when you’re committed to exploring.

A pianist or string quartet might play softly in the background as you enter the designated tea room. Peruse the lengthy tea leaf menu, and choose from herbal or caffeinated black teas. Admire the fine china, savor the service and exhale.

Waiters will bring nibbles via a tiered platter for your linen-draped table or on a rolling cart.

Begin with dainty sandwiches, be it cucumber, smoked salmon or thinly sliced roast beef, and then smother fresh-baked scones with so much jam and clotted cream you can hardly see the pastry beneath. Do save room for petit fours, little pastry jewels begging to be devoured.

Some cruise lines charge for the fancy tea experience; others offer it complimentary or add costs for upgrades like Champagne.

Related: Big mistakes cruisers make on cruise ship sea days

Casino play

Since most cruise ship casinos are closed when ships are in port, sea days are the buzziest time to hit the slot machines and table games. The cruise line may schedule a tournament or two for both slots and card games or offer lessons for beginners. (On one cruise, my husband won a poker tournament on a sea day, and I did serious damage in the shops ashore the next day.)

It’s no surprise that the biggest ships possess the largest roll-the-dice rooms, with numerous ways to win or lose money. Norwegian Cruise Line offers themed slot tournament cruises, like a Hawaiian luau or masquerade. Casinos are so hot across Celebrity Cruises’ fleet that if you ship-hop, you can try your luck at more than 2,015 slot games and 148 table games.

Related: How to earn free cruises and perks with casino loyalty programs on land and at sea

Onboard shopping

All shops hum on sea days because the boutiques are only allowed to be open when the ship is in international waters (to avoid competing for business with land-based establishments). Some venues will lure you in with raffles or complimentary Champagne, and brand representatives may be on hand to talk about their line of jewelry, clothing or handbags.

Cruise ship shopping is duty-free, so you can expect some deals on board. (Sales often occur on the last sea day.) You don’t need to sail on a luxury ship to find high-end designer labels. Celebrity Cruises showcases brands such as Montblanc, Cartier and Bulgari, while MSC Cruises’ shopping options include Chopard and Gucci jewelry.

Dance lessons

Dancing in the Wheelhouse Bar. MARK KATZMAN/PRINCESS CRUISES

The stars of the onboard dance shows and the ship’s entertainment team may not be household names, but they often offer sea-day dance lessons. Whether you’re attending a wedding soon or want to pick up some new moves to use in the club later that evening, you might wish to devote some at-sea time to a dance class.

Princess Cruises delivers ballroom instruction, along with other styles, such as country line dancing and salsa. Maybe your hip-hop moves leave something to be desired; Royal Caribbean’s classes can turn you into a cool kid. Cruise lines such as Silversea and Cunard may even bring gentleman hosts on board to dance with partnerless ladies, so everyone has a chance to learn a few new steps.

Art tours

Some lines, like Regent Seven Seas Cruises, double as museums, presenting multi-million-dollar art collections. On sea days when the weather is less than ideal, consider swapping your view of the sea for a view of a curated art collection. How sublime to stand solo before an original Picasso without hordes of tourists crowding your view.

For example, Seven Seas Splendor houses a $5 million art collection, including two Pablo Picassos (one on display in the Prime 7 restaurant, near a Joan Miro) along with works by legendary artists like Juan Roberto Diago; find the latter artist’s mixed-media works on canvas at Coffee Connection.

The artsy dragon outside the Pacific Rim restaurant is a jaw-dropper. You actually walk through the life-size sculpture to enter the eatery. When Seven Seas Grandeur debuts in November 2023, the most notable piece of its multi-million-dollar art collection will be the first Fabergé Egg Objet to reside permanently at sea.

Hands-on classes

Have you ever wondered how to arrange flowers or fold napkins into pleasing shapes? Sea days are primetime for classes, so check the daily schedule to see what you can learn as you sail to your next destination.

On Oceania Cruises’ Marina, Riviera and new Vista, you can find your inner Renoir during Artist Loft classes. Oceania hires artists in residence to lead lessons, a major perk. These three ships also offer hands-on cooking classes in their state-of-the-art Culinary Centers, so you can learn to prepare the line’s signature dishes or recipes attuned to the itinerary.

Silversea’s snazzy S.A.L.T. Lab on Silver Nova and Silver Dawn also delivers impressive hands-on culinary classes reflecting the itinerary. On newly reimagined Crystal, learn new skills at Computer University@Sea taught by tech experts, and your grandchildren won’t dare laugh at you again.

Waterslides and thrill rides

Norwegian Prima Speedway. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Who says only kids can race cars and careen down waterslides? Just act like a grown-up and don’t scream louder than your children.

Some mainstream ships replicate popular water and amusement park activities, with sea days the best for relishing every conceivable thrill. Some Norwegian Cruise Line ships offer go-kart tracks and multistory waterslides. Carnival Cruise Line features spiraling waterslides, with newer ships like Mardi Gras offering BOLT: Ultimate Sea Coaster. All Disney ships include aquatic rides; Disney Magic’s AquaDunk starts with a free fall and is much scarier than Disney Fantasy’s and Disney Dream’s AquaDuck, a raft-like water coaster that veers over the ship’s side but doesn’t go quite as fast.

If you’re timid like me, find a carousel and borrow a kid so you don’t look too goofy hopping on a painted horse. (Royal Caribbean has them on its Oasis- and Icon-class ships.)

Related: The best cruise ship waterslides and watery fun zones

Onboard workouts

Burn, baby, burn! We’re talking calories, not sunburn. All cruise lines hold fitness classes — from morning stretch to high-octane boot camp — to help you work off last night’s dessert or keep up with your workout routine on vacation.

Many fitness classes, such as spinning or yoga, require advance signups (and possibly a fee), so book early to lock in your spot. Some ships even hold classes outdoors — so invigorating in the sea air. Virgin Voyages offers unique fitness classes, such as ’80s-themed aerobics and a bungee class.

If group workouts aren’t your thing, head to the ship’s gym to work up a good sweat on the treadmill, pump iron or do some yoga stretches on a mat. Or, walk or jog the outdoor deck, covered in UV-protective clothing and lathered in sunscreen, natch.

Pickleball play

Passengers play pickleball on Holland America’s Volendam. HOLLAND AMERICA LINE

As pickleball’s popularity soars, some cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas and Princess Cruises now feature pickleball courts on select ships. Holland America offers them fleetwide, while Celebrity Cruises added pickleball courts to nine ships.

You can pick this sport up quickly. It’s an easy outdoor racquet game with courts about the size of those for badminton. Players serve underhand, using paddles and perforated plastic balls, serving crosscourt. Pickleball is usually played as doubles.

Granted, the sports’ terms are somewhat comical; the non-volley zone is called the kitchen, and soft, finessed shots, landing near your opponent’s feet or in the opponent’s non-volley zone, are called dinks. Just remember this: Don’t volley from the kitchen, and go for the dink. Later, go for a drink.

Booking another cruise

A sea day is the perfect day to meet with a cruise consultant and discuss future sailings. Put down a deposit on your next vacation on board, and you’ll usually receive an onboard credit or discount (maybe five or 10%).

Even if you’re not ready to book, it’s a convenient time to gather information to share with your travel agent back home. My guess is that your sea day is going to be so fantastic you’ll want to sail again soon, with multiple sea days built into your itinerary.

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